Bennigan's Monte Cristo Sandwich

8 slices firm bread (a hearty French or Challah), sliced ½-inch to 1-inch thick
1½ cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted + 1 tablespoon for cooking
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
Dijon mustard
8 ounces sliced Virginia ham
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded
Maple syrup, for serving

  1. If your bread is not yet dry, put it in the toaster on the lowest setting to dry it out.
  2. Whisk together the milk, egg yolks, brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla extract and salt in a medium bowl. Pour the custard into a 9x13-inch baking pan.
  3. Assemble the sandwiches by spreading a thin layer of Dijon mustard on each slice of bread. Top 4 slices with an equal amount of ham and cheese, and then top with the remaining slices of bread, pressing them together gently.
  4. Set a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat and melt ½ tablespoon of the butter.
  5. Meanwhile, place the assembled sandwiches in the custard mixture for 20 seconds. Gently flip the sandwiches over and soak on the other side for an additional 20 seconds. Transfer two of the sandwiches to a baking sheet or tray.
  6. Place the other two sandwiches in the skillet and cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully flip the sandwiches and cook until the second side is golden brown, an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the cooked sandwiches to a cooling rack or serving tray. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, melt the remaining ½ tablespoon of butter and repeat with the remaining two sandwiches.
  7. Serve with maple syrup or fruit preserves.